I have this memory as old as my first car, lost and rusting away somewhere. We sat in the front yard of the dilapidated house, our clothes, hands, and hair stained white by days of paint. We ate squished sandwiches, bruised apples, and patently American snacks brought with us for the journey. We had to drive the thirty miles to the closest place to buy paint for the trim, and we were trying to decide what color to buy.
I remember the whole conversation- each person on our team voicing a different idea about what color the shutters and door should be. My mother had chosen brown shutters for her white house, so it seemed a natural choice. In the end our group decided to buy black paint.
It was my first mission trip, and I had let the leaders in on the secret that I wanted to grow up to be a missionary, so they gave me lots of extra responsibility. The old woman who owned the house baked an apple pie, and I along with our team leaders where the only ones invited to join her for it. We talked about faith and about the Methodist church.
She reminded me of Issy our next door neighbor who put coffee in my baby bottle. I wanted to plant a flower garden to surprise her, but mom insisted that surprises are the leading cause of death among the aged and made me ask permission first. She didn't want a flower garden. Years later when she was in the home, she wanted to buy a school-fundraiser candy bar from me for us to share - but it didn't seem fair to take money from someone in a home so I paid for it and let her eat half.
I rode in the old green van with the leaders to buy the black paint. We got a bit lost, and stopped to ask directions of some teenagers in a truck. As they rolled down their windows, smoke billowed out and later I learned from our leaders what the word "hotboxing" meant.
We brought back the black paint, and I was put in charge of leading the trim work. It was a big responsibility for a teenager - and the house looked stunning when we were done.
On our team's last day, the old woman's daughter came by. She knew my mom and invited me inside. I was sitting on the brown-knit sofa (the same style that my great-grandmother had given to my family when she went into the home) when I overheard the daughter-mother conversation.
"Why did you have them paint the shutters black, mom?"
"Oh, I didn't know they painted them black."
"Why didn't you have them paint the shutters green like they always have been?"
"Oh ... They're not green anymore?"
At the end of the day, we led the woman out into her yard so she could see the good work we had done. The house looked much better, and she was clearly thankful - but I could see her eyes scanning each shutter, squinting to see if the color was really different than before.
I don't know why we didn't ask her what color to paint the trim. It never crossed our minds.
Years later, when I had made the paper for something, I received a card from the older woman. Although she lived more than two hours away, she still subscribed to The Kane Republican to read about her daughter and grandchildren when they made the paper. She thanked me for doing such a great job, and let me know that she had joined the United Methodist church in her small town, and wrote that it had been fun reading about all of my accomplishments in the paper over the years.